Cafe Sushi

By Molly McDonough · 12/19/2016    Cambridge · Japanese · Sushi · $$

Cafe Sushi has been here for a while. As you’re seated amidst that turquoise-purple-gray color combo, the bright lights, and that carpet (yikes!), it’ll be pretty obvious. You might wonder: Why eat Japanese in a well-worn ’90s joint when you could be in a modern, wood-lined, candlelit lounge feeling all demure and sexy? Ask any of the devotees who crowd Cafe Sushi’s tables from lunch to dinner, who wait outside and always come back—they’re everywhere, stuffing this place to the brim.

Exterior of Cafe Sushi

First of all, any place in Harvard Square’s vicinity that hasn’t changed hands since 1984 must be doing something right. After decades of watching local institutions shutter to make way for yet another bank, we breathe a sigh of relief every time we stroll past the little concrete restaurant-filled building that occupies this Mass Ave. block, thinking OK, it’s still here.

But also, doesn’t it bother you how “affordable sushi” these days is synonymous with something rubbery you snagged off a conveyor belt without knowing how long it’s been going in circles (what is this, baggage claim)? And that melt-in-your-mouth fish, so good you wouldn’t dream of adding a drop of soy sauce, is somehow attainable only by dressing to the nines, blowing a week’s paycheck, and entering a world of snobbery?

That’s why we love Cafe Sushi: Everything about this place revolves around respect for good fish and the care to serve it in the right way—without pretentiousness, without inciting bankruptcy. Exhibit A: No extravagant cocktails. Grab a Sapporo or an awesome sake and get ready to taste fish without distraction. Exhibit B: Nigiri topped with morsels of beautiful, well-thought-out gastronomic pairings that the chef adds using literal tweezers (think: a sprinkle of West Virginia sea salt, a drop of onion confiture, a preserved cherry blossom leaf pesto). Exhibit C: The well-executed basics. Fancy “red rice vinegar”—made in Japan from delicious sake mash—is used to dress the sushi rice. And as for the fish, stop bragging that you can tell your “sake” from your “maguro.” Here, you’ll get to sample a range of cuts of the same fish, yielding a new level of appreciation for this cuisine’s endless diversity.

As for those bright lights? Forget the cavernous candlelit sushi dens of your past. This is the kind of colorful, shiny, delicately adorned fish you want to be able to see.

Omakase requires a reservation, but Cafe Sushi’s website makes it easy, and there’s plenty of weeknight space if booked a couple days ahead.

Please don’t drown the omakase nigiri in fixings; while the obligatory soy/wasabi/ginger is present, there’s no logical reason to overpower the perfectly paired fish and toppings.

If you don’t have hours to linger over eight courses, Cafe Sushi does everything else—including lunch specials and bento boxes—with the same inclination to quality.

Must Haves

  • Just do it! For about $85 you’ll get eight-plus courses of phenomenal offerings at the sushi bar. The one problem? Guilt after watching your friendly chef painstakingly dress pieces of nigiri with their tiny toppings before devouring each one in a single bite.

Fun Fact

If dining omakase-style, you’ll likely be handed plates by second-generation chef-owner Seizi Imura. His dad opened Café Sushi in 1984.

Tastes of Cafe Sushi

So good we can't stop writing about it. Read more about Cafe Sushi!

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Sign up for our weekly newsletters for curated guides, can't-miss dishes, restaurant recommendations, and more.

Enter Email